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LETTERS OF LITERARY MEN RARELY PUBLISHED.
volume, (the last published after Pope's genuine edition, from which he pirated largely,) but wanting his allies, the old gentleman and the clergyman with the barrister's band, “ like the lost Pleiad, seen no more below,” Curll was helpless. All the volumes were dignified with the title of “Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence," but he had been only able to pick up the two authentic letters alluded to by Pope in his communication to Swift. The remainder were letters of Lord Lansdowne, the Duke of Shrewsbury, Bolingbroke, Garth, &c. Some of the collection were even letters of Henry VIII. to Anne Boleyn, inserted, as Swift maliciously said of Dryden's prefaces,
No one who has not had occasion to wade through the trash and filth of this period, can conceive how low the public taste must have fallen, or how prurient and insatiable the appetite for private scandal and memoirs had become, when such publications as those of Curll and other booksellers were tolerated.
The letters of literary men of eminence had rarely, as Johnson observed, been published in England, and even those of statesmen but sparingly. This modest reserve was partly broken by some of the wits and courtiers of Charles II.'s time, who sought to rival Balzac and Voiture. Rochester, Saville, Etherege, &c. furnished some communications for the press; Dennis and a few other needy or vain authors followed; and Curll was ready for all such offers or windfalls. The practice, however, up to Pope's time, was neither general nor popular, and was shunned by respectable authors. Sprat states that Cowley excelled in letterwriting; but though he himself possessed a considerable collection of the poet's letters, he declined to publish them. “The truth is,” adds Sprat, “ the letters that pass between particular friends, if they are written as they ought to be can scarce ever be fit to see the light. They should not
consist of fulsome compliments, or tedious politics, or elaborate elegancies, or general fancies; but they should have a native clearness and shortness, a domestical plainness, and a peculiar kind of familiarity which can only affect the humour of those to whom they were intended. The very same passages which make writings of this nature delightful amongst friends, will lose all manner of taste when they come to be read by those that are indifferent. In such letters the souls of men should appear undressed, and in that negligent habit they may be fit to be seen by one or two in a chamber, but not to go abroad into the streets." It would be difficult to find a truer or better description of what letter-writing should be than this definition of it by Sprat; but he forgot that the poet, by his works, establishes the same personal interest with his readers 'that ordinary mortals derive from society. We contract an intimacy with him from his development of his tastes, feelings, and sentiments, and naturally wish to follow him into the shade of private life. Wherever we have truth and nature there must be interest; it is only when men are seen in masquerade, either in their life or writings, that indifference or disgust is created; and in the case of men of genius this sympathy, extending over all humanity, is increased a thousandfold. The unreserved familiarity of Cowper's letters is their great charm, and elevates them above all the studied description and witty repartees of ambitious correspondents. A selection from Cowley's letters would probably have placed him in a far more important and endearing light as regards the fame he so much coveted, than all his “epic and Pindaric art." His essays afford glimpses of his retirement, and to these he owes the best half of his reputation. Pope appears before us in most of his letters as a wit and an author. He had ample leisure, he studied fine periods, painted scenes, and wrought out similes and sentiments. He acknowledged himself that in his youthful epistles there was an affectation of wit and smartness. There was also an excess of egotism
LITERARY FRIENDS OF POPE.
and a strain of adulation that conveyed an impression of insincerity. As records of his actual life, his feelings or opinions, his letters are indeed of little value. Most of those which possess any strong personal interest were not published by himself, but were found among the repositories of Fortescue, of the Blounts, or of Jervas. His letters to ladies are generally disagreeable. Pope, however, like other men, wrote in various moods, and his letters, even when they assume the form of essays, possess passages of great beauty, good sense, and fine observation. He is seldom seen in undress, but his dressed style is occasionally pleasing. He has certainly more thought and genius in his letters than either Swift or Bolingbroke, though Swift is more manly and direct, and Bolingbroke more easy, graceful, and fluent. He was the centre of a brilliant coterie, who owe much of their fame to their association with the satirical and moral poet.
Though mixing little in the society of contemporary authors, Pope appears to have been on friendly terms with Thomson, Mallet, and Young. Thomson's residence in Kew-lane was convenient of access, and he frequently paid the easy, good-humoured poet a visit 3. Mr. Mitford possesses an interleaved copy of the Seasons (of the edition of 1736) containing numerous alterations and additions in Pope's handwriting, all of which were adopted by Thomson. One of these is eminently beautiful, and leads us to regret that Pope had not cultivated blank verse. In Thomson's episode of Palæmon and Lavinia were these lines :
3 Mr. Thomas Park, in 1791, held conversations with some surviving acquaintances of Thomson. Mr. Robertson, surgeon of the household at Kew, recollected Pope's visiting his friend, the author of the Seasons. Thomson's hairdresser had also seen him, and said that when Pope called on his brother-poet he usually wore a light-coloured great-coat, which he kept on in the house. “He was,” said the barber, "a strange ill-formed little figure of a man ; but I have heard him and Quin and Paterson talk o together at Thomson's that I could have listened to them for ever.”
Thoughtless of beauty she was Beauty's self,
To glean Palæmon's fields. Pope drew his pen through these lines and wrote the passage as it now stands :
Thoughtless of beauty she was Beauty's self,
To glean Palæmon's fields. The simile of the myrtle in the “hollow breast of Apennine" is one of the finest in our poetry, and is in the vein of the Epistle of Eloisa. Thomson was then fast purifying and refining his taste, and the result was seen in his Castle of Indolence; but he has few lines so classically correct, or so imbued with sculptural grace and beauty, as this description of Lavinia. The imaginative glow of the true poet was often obscured by the turgid and prolix versifier.
The practice of correcting was a favourite employment with Pope. He was always a critical reader. His copy of Garth's Dispensary, 1703, attests his habit of minute observation. At the end of the volume, in a hand as small and neat as print, he has written :
Dispensary, p. 13, line 1, Canto 2; seems contradictory to line 4.
Soon as with gentle sighs the evening breeze
Certainly, if the breeze was whispering, the winds could not be hushed in their subterranean beds. The second contradictory passage runs thus :
As th' airy messenger the Fury spied,
Confusion on his fainting vitals hung. This passage might have been cited in the Bathos; for imparting to the airy messenger "blood” and “vitals" is not exceeded in absurdity by any of the tribe of flying fishes, swallows, or ostriches. The line that contradicts itself is as follows :
Here his forsaken seat old Chaos keeps.* Garth was
a good easy man—a Christian without knowing it, according to Pope, and in his last illness he sent to Addison to know if the Christian religion was true. He was tired of life—tired of, he said, pulling off and on his shoes every day!
Mallet the poet had courted Pope with the most servile adulation. His
of “ Verbal Criticism” was inscribed to Pope, for whom he professed his “inviolable esteem," and to gratify whom he attacked afresh the victims of the
4 This interesting volume is in Mr. Rogers's collection, and has an illustrious pedigree. It was given to Pope by Garth; then by Pope to Warburton in the year 1744. By Warburton it was given to Mason in 1752 : from Mason it descended to Lord St. Helen's; and Lord St. Helens, shortly before his death in 1815, presented it to Mr. Rogers. Inside the cover is affixed one of the Homer receipts :-“Received of the Marquis of Dorchester Two Guineas, being the first payment to the Subscription for the Translation of Homer's Ilias, to be delivered in quires to the Bearer hereof in the manner specified in the proposals, A. POPE.” All the names left blank in the poem are filled up by Pope ; and at the end is the full-length sketch, engraved for this work, drawn in pen and ink by Hoare of Bath.